At the end of the 1990s we were working as volunteers at the Brighton Peace and Environment Centre. Having been teachers in a former life we expected our work at the centre to be educational, perhaps devising materials for use in schools and community organisations or working in the centre’s library or shop, or carrying out routine tasks to help keep the centre going. But there was an exciting and important event on the horizon: The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference [11-15 May, 1999], that prompted the centre to apply for funding to send a group of young people to The Hague and to help finance Brighton’s own Peace Festival the following year.
There had been two earlier conferences in 1899 and 1907, but this was different as it was held by civil society and addressed new, urgent themes – ways of eliminating the causes of war (including racism, colonialism, poverty and other human rights violations), and the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction including nuclear ones. It also included the addressing of peaceful alternatives to conflict resolution as an interim to abolishing war, improvements in humanitarian law, and most importantly, the creation of a culture of peace for the world’s war-oppressed people.
In particular, we wanted to celebrate all the work being carried out locally and world-wide in peace-making and creating peaceful alternatives to war and conflict, so we planned a year-long programme of events – meetings, music, discussions, that would culminate in a huge festival. We wanted as many organisations as possible to be involved and all sections of the community.
Why the HAP t-shirt?
The HAP conference visit was probably the most exciting part for the young participants. The team of seventeen were mainly teenagers from local sixth-form schools who volunteered to attend twelve weeks of activities in preparation for their week-long trip to the conference, where they would meet other young people from around the world as well as prominent peace activists, such as Kofi Annan from the United Nations.
With help from the Woodcraft Folk trainers and Pestalozzi International Village in Sussex, the group planned to travel together, camp and co-exist peacefully with each other as well as fully participate in the conference. They would conduct their own affairs without leaders, centre staff or other adults and make their own unique contribution to the conference.
They designed and produced the t-shirt for their important role as peace messengers from the Sussex Peace Messenger city of Brighton, and it made them instantly recognisable at the conference of many thousands of participant groups and individuals. Using the Peace 2000 logo and everyone’s name, a t-shirt was produced for each person plus a few extra for posterity.
And here we are, in posterity, and the t-shirt is still here to remind us of a significant moment in peace history and of every one of our young peace ambassadors. It also reminds us that Brighton Peace and Environment Centre is thriving and continuing its important work. But it also reminds us, twelve years on, in world terms how far we still have to go.
It would be good to know how many other t-shirts survive and are still worn by their owners. Perhaps Maggie is somewhere still beautifully singing the song we believe she wrote especially for the conference and sang there.